The Oakland Unified School District has put its community engagement process on “reset” after plans to rebuild its central office complex blew up in its face amid community suspicions that the district was arranging to sell Dewey Academy out from under its students and teachers, and hand over the school district headquarters property on Second Avenue to private developers.
The Educational Leadership Complex Committee, which started meeting in December with about a dozen members, was supposed to embody the new, improved, “reset” community engagement process. But now some of the community members are questioning whether the committee is being set up to rubber stamp whatever the administration puts in front of it.
“It doesn’t feel like an authentic process. It’s like what (former facilities manager) Tim White said in the Oakland Post, like this is being rammed down the community’s throat,” said Bruce Kariya, a community representative on the committee and a former school board member for District 2 from 1999-2003.
“It’s a lot about being rushed and just being asked to make decisions without any information that we really need,” said Kariya. “It’s such an amorphous process, very ill defined, ill resourced. There’s a lot of frustration over that.”
The committee is supposed to have its final meeting on March 22 and produce a report for a school board meeting in April. Among committee members are Mia Settles, OUSD Chief Operations Officer; Tim White, the Deputy Chief of Facilities who was recently forced to resign; and Vernon Hal, senior business manager. Also attending meetings is Isaac Kos-Read, newly hired Chief of Communications and Public Affairs.
Frustrated by the lack of information, community members submitted questions by email on Feb. 21 to district staff.
“May we have an advance agenda for topics of discussion?” They requested.
“May we now have the information on results from the surveys of the various sectors of the community?
“Please supply written information on approximate amounts of funding and sources available or considered. It is not possible to entirely divorce the planning from the funding questions.
“May we know what other sites are contemplated as possibilities for an administration complex? What studies are available on other suitable OUSD-owned, non-school facilities, such as, just for one example, the High Street site?
“Can you tell us what the state-recommended land allocation would be for a continuation high school Dewey’s size? What are the standards for recreational facilities for a school of Dewey’s size?
“Please provide information about what mechanism would be employed to request an extension, since the project plan and committee work plan will obviously not be sufficient nor suitably worked out in time for the deadline? What are the external time constraints that are impacting our committee’s work.”
The school district headquarters flooded in January 2013, causing the entire building to be evacuated. Since then, the district central offices have been temporarily located at closed school sites around the city and in an office building in downtown Oakland at Broadway and 11th Street.
In addition, the city has sold land to a company to build a condominium tower next to Dewey Academy, which is adjacent to the old headquarters. Dewey students and supporters held a series of protests last year to pressure the district to halt a proposal to sell the property to the company to help pay for the new headquarters project.
“With the current process in place, we can’t know what the community wants,” said Kariya, adding that the committee is only sure that the community does not want the site to be used for housing.
“There seems to be a desire on the part of the school district to have some sort of private development,” Kariya said, though a number of their goals for the 3-acre site seem incompatible. The want to build 75,000 square feet of office space and parking for 500. But the district currently has over 900 central office employees and 275,000 square feet of central office space.
“You have to accept it all on blind faith,” he said.
When committee members express their frustrations, Kariya said, public affairs chief Kos-Read is now putting the blame on (former facilities manager) Tim White.
Naomi Schiff of the Oakland Heritage Alliance is also questioning why committee members are getting no information on which to make a decision.
She said that she went on a tour last year of the closed Paul Robeson Administration building. “It is dry. You’d think it was moldy and full of water. There was certainly some kind of flooding, but it’s not falling down. There is no visible cracking,” she said.
“It may be that it would be very expensive to use it (again), it is not a non-reusable building.”